Major Players Align for FAA’s DataComm Competition

 - January 12, 2012, 10:38 AM
An aircraft multifunction control display unit shows a controller-pilot datalink message. Pre-departure clearances and routine messages from airport towers begin in 2015. (Photo: FAA)

Aerospace companies, airlines and communications providers have aligned to pursue the FAA’s Data Communications Integrated Services (DCIS) contract, the second major step in the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) modernization effort. The contenders expect a contract award in June for the 17-year, multibillion-dollar program.

The DCIS contractor will provide a data communications network connecting ground and aircraft automation systems, enabling data messaging between pilots and air traffic controllers. The contractor will also administer an $80 million avionics equipage incentive program to supply 1,900 aircraft with the necessary equipment. Data communications will begin replacing voice communications at 73 airports from 2015 to 2018, followed in order by en route and terminal approach control facilities.

The DCIS competition has drawn three industry teams led by ITT Exelis, Lockheed Martin and Harris. Each figures prominently in ATC modernization. ITT Exelis is building the ground infrastructure for automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast, the first major NextGen program. Lockheed Martin serves as the prime contractor for the FAA’s en route automation modernization (Eram) system undergoing installation at 20 air route traffic control centers. Harris won the position of prime contractor for the FAA’s telecommunications infrastructure, the network supporting voice, data and video communications at 4,500 FAA and Department of Defense facilities. The FAA selected Harris and the former ITT for the agency’s earlier, discontinued Nexcom program to replace air-to-ground communications with digital, multimode radios.

ITT Exelis on January 9 unveiled a DCIS “pursuit team” that includes Airbus, United Airlines, JetBlue Airways, CSC, Rockwell Collins and Raytheon as major partners. “We’ve been working on the pursuit of this [program] for a long time, and we’ve put together what we think is a pretty comprehensive and outstanding team that addresses the full aspects, not just the networking aspect, but the equipage aspect, the ground integration and the operations and procedures aspects,” said Ed Sayadian, ITT Exelis president of air traffic management.

Lockheed Martin has teamed with Boeing, Level 3 Communications, Telcordia and six unidentified airlines. Through the Eram contract, Lockheed Martin already provides a national log-on capability and protocol gateway, which will link airport tower, en route and terminal automation systems with the new data communications network. While Eram itself is running late, these pieces are not. “The data comm portion of the Eram program is mine, and it is on schedule for 2014 for the tower piece,” said Diane Desua, the company’s director of NextGen strategy and en route support. “We’re working closely with the FAA TDLS [Tower Data Link System] program to be able to integrate with them. We’re providing the log-on and the protocol gateway—so, no issues.”

The Harris team includes Arinc, GE Aviation, Thales and an unidentified major airline. “I would always lead with our mission-critical networking capability,” said John O’Sullivan, Harris senior executive for FAA and mission-critical programs. “Combined with that, we work in the national airspace every day from an operational perspective, so [we have] that intimate knowledge of how things actually operate in the national airspace.”